Hot! Low literacy levels affect everyone

NorthumberlandToday.com – news/localnews/displayarticle
Published January 27, 2011.

Today is Family Literacy Day, in recognition of which Northumberland Today is launching a five-part series on literacy in Northumberland.

The Northumberland Poverty Reduction Action Committee works to put poverty reduction at the top of every agenda.

Family Literacy Day, Jan. 27, is an opportunity to show the link between poverty and low literacy skills, and more importantly, to create a climate for change.

Improving the literacy of individuals has a direct impact on every aspect of our society — productivity, income, labour-force participation, health, poverty reduction and citizen engagement all improve when literacy increases. Having poor literacy skills has significant implications on the individual and on our community, as it leads to fewer choices in education, jobs, personal finances, housing, health and ability to engage in the community on any issue.

According to the Ontario Literacy Coalition and the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network:

* 42% of Ontarians have low literacy performance.

* People with low literacy skills are about twice as likely to be unemployed for six or more months.

* Between 22% and 50% of adults with lower levels of literacy live in low-income households, compared with only 8% of those with high-level literacy skills.

* 65% of social-assistance recipients have low literacy skills.

* People with literacy problems have only two-thirds of the income of other adults.

* Individuals with the lowest literacy skills make on average $28,000 less than those with the highest literacy levels.

If you are reading this and understanding what the printed words mean in the context of this article, then literacy is likely something you take for granted. However, being literate has a broader meaning than just being able to read and write.

Many people can read, but do not feel confident in filling out forms like income-tax returns or applications for government benefits, cannot manage a chequing account or understand how much a credit-card debt is costing them.

Financial literacy covers everything from deciding whether to pay by cash or by credit card and understanding a utility bill or credit card statement to calculating the costs of education or a mortgage. The lack of financial literacy among Canadians has even attracted the attention of the federal government. The minister of finance established a national task force in 2009 to make recommendations to increase the financial literacy of Canadians. Poor financial literacy has a direct impact on the financial well-being of the individual, as well as a direct impact on the financial health of the country.

Many people can read, but do not understand medical terminology used by their physicians or pharmacists, or are unable to find the right place in a hospital, fill out medical and insurance forms and communicate with health-care providers. Lacking health literacy costs both the individual and the health-care system.

If these scenarios sound familiar, you may not be as literate as you think. In a series of articles over the coming weeks, NPRAC will explore some of these concepts, outlining the scope of the problem, the barriers that keep low-income residents out of literacy and job-training programs and solutions that could work here in Northumberland.

— Submitted article

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